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Powerful People, Powerful Lessons

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI

Remember Borders, the once-giant bookstore chain? At its peak, Borders and its chief competitor, Barnes and Noble, controlled a combined 40% of the bookselling market. While numerous factors led to Borders’ eventual demise, failing to jump quickly enough on the e-commerce bandwagon probably hurt the most.

The lesson? Adapt or die. It’s a lesson many members of this year’s Counselor Power 50 – the most influential business leaders in the ad specialty industry – clearly learned.

As Counselor Editor Andy Cohen says of the growing influence of e-commerce on our industry, “Many of the newcomers on this year’s list are e-commerce players, and even the person at the top of the rankings heads a distributor firm that is the biggest pure digital and mobile player in the market today.”

One of the best case studies to learn from involves the man at the top of the 2015 list: Kevin Lyons-Tarr, who rose to No. 1 in large part because of the explosive growth of the North American division of the company he heads, online seller 4imprint.

As Andy so rightly concludes: “Lyons-Tarr is espousing the business model of the future in the promotional products industry. He’s leading the way in the market for e-commerce, social network marketing and a digital-first approach that others are trying to emulate.”

ASI unveiled the latest Power 50 list at our just-concluded 2015 U.S. Power Summit, held over three days at a gorgeous resort about an hour south of Los Angeles (see pic at right for this year’s “class” of attendees). The agenda was our most future-forward ever, with topics like “Lessons from a Hacker,” “Marketing to Millennials” and “Go Mobile or Die.”

This was also one of our most controversial Power Summits.

By bringing in speakers we dubbed “the disrupters” for the way they’re changing the game, our aim was to provide as many lessons as possible in adapting to shifts in the marketplace. Alibaba’s Michael Lee, with me at right, provided a lot of insight into how the world’s biggest online retailer continues to rake in billions.

And, since keeping pace with new technology is critical to any business as new ideas, we also included demos of 3D printers, holograms, wearable technology and drones.

If you missed the Power Summit, you’ll find coverage of many of the topics in Counselor PromoGram and on ASI’s website and social media pages (hashtag #asipowersummit). Click here for recaps, pics and videos.

And, we’ll continue to report on ways the Internet is changing how distributors in the promo products market operate in the pages of our magazines. For more guidance, you can also revisit the 2015 Counselor State of the Industry report and listen to the Counselor Podcast: Power 50 Series, featuring in-depth interviews with 10 industry insiders on topics of importance to us all.

As always, the information is yours for the taking.

Finally, it’s never too early to register for the 2016 Power Summit, taking place November 3-5, at the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami, Florida (or maybe the White House — we’ll see). Hope to see you there!


Build a Better Company

Filed under: Members, News About ASI

Until recently, very few companies gave much thought to their “corporate culture.” How times have changed. Now, smart companies go out of their way to ensure employees maintain a proper life-work balance and that they’re as happy as they are productive.

As studies have shown, unhappy workers goof off more and are less motivated. But if you reward them with decent pay, good benefits, meaningful work, flexible schedules and occasional breaks from the daily grind, your reward is often higher profits.

How different companies meet and often exceed employee needs and expectations is at the heart of our Counselor Best Places to Work issue, now in print and online. The annual issue lists the 75 best places to work (as voted on by employees) in the promotional products industry, along with profiles of several winning companies and info on creating a great workplace, from motivating employees and retaining top talent to creating unique jobs and celebrating staff accomplishments.

Florida-based supplier The Book Company (asi/41010) scored the number-one spot. The 16-employee company, of Delray Beach, was founded by Doug Greenhut and supplies blank and customized books.

I expected to see a passion for books and extraordinary service and support encouraged in a list of corporate beliefs, but was delighted to also find celebrating success, taking a break and walking a dog earn merit. No wonder surveyed employees cited the company’s refreshing flexibility and fun, laid-back atmosphere as key ingredients of a winning corporate formula.

As Counselor editors and writers discovered during their research, which included a summer road tour to personally visit some of the top companies, “great places to work aren’t built by accident. They are the product of conscious and thoughtful planning.”

I encourage you to read the entire issue and consider what practices might fly at your own workplace. Here are just a few examples to get you thinking:

Stran Promotional Solutions (asi/337725), of Quincy, MA:

  • Hire self-motivated employees who are independent thinkers and allow them to make their own decisions.
  • Adopt a laid-back culture with a casual dress code.
  • Eat lunch together every day en masse and work together to get the job done.

Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment (asi/267770), of Sterling Heights, MI:

  • Adopt a transparent and communicative culture. Hold meetings where employees can ask any question they want and share financials.
  • Build camaraderie by creating regular outings for all employees and encouraging an open-door policy.

Tangerine Promotions (asi/341609), of Northbrook, IL:

  • Encourage employee referrals to bring in qualified candidates.
  • Offer a wealth of perks to engender loyalty and reduce turnover, like rewarding top salespeople with a trip, offering work-from-home options and every other Friday off during the summer.

To see the complete list of 75 companies and to read the Best Places to Work issue, click here.

Have an idea or perk that’s paid off at your company? Share it by leaving a comment.

Fall Fashion: Can You Dig It?

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Our annual Style Issue and high-fashion shoot for Wearables is an exercise in ambition. Instead of everyday polos and T-shirts, we challenged preconceived notions of promotional apparel. It’s Fashion with a capital ‘F.’

The bar was high, but I think we surpassed expectations. Last year, we created a life-sized background, plastered it to the ground and wired a camera to the ceiling, 14 feet high. Designer Conrad Booker conceived an original line of clothing for industry decorators to bring to life and the 15-hour shoot culminated in a gravity-defying (and award-winning!) fashion spread.

The question this year, obviously, was “How can we top that?”

The answer: Be dramatically different.

Echoing leading fashion pubs like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the 2015 fall fashion shoot featured a minimalist set design that showcased the amazing 1970s-era clothes (the year’s biggest runway trend) and floral multimedia decoration. We combined the shoot for Wearables and Stitches for the first time in anticipation of the upcoming integration of the magazines, and in response to our many readers’ interest in varied decoration techniques.

Each year, the day of the shoot is always exhilarating but stressful, but this year’s also was the most fun and relaxed. ASI’s photographer Mark Pricskett kept the mood light by cranking the grooviest disco tracks of the era (Saturday Night Fever, anyone?). ASI intern Alexandra Steel got some good-natured ribbing for an important-but-thankless task: raking the set’s shag carpet. And, I admit it, we all took turns modeling the amazing faux afro puff (made from dyed raffia) Conrad created for one of the outfits.

Check out the fun by watching our behind-the-scenes video.


Thanks to incredible outfits provided by leading designers and industry decorators, the shoot was a joy instead of a job. But an all-day shoot with two models and nearly a dozen staffers and assistants hustling and bustling isn’t a simple matter of throwing on an outfit and snapping a few pics. Thought and effort go into everything: makeup and hair, lighting and even poses. It’s a mix of science and art, fueled by a hefty dose of professional intuition.

Take the laser-cut leather jacket from designer Byron Lars. Mark encouraged our model Roxanne to try some “cheesy smiles” and, boom! Smiling visions of Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs filled our heads (as they did countless boys from that era), and we knew we had our shot.

We’re unabashedly proud of the work we did, but our biggest hope is that it serves as inspiration for decorators across the industry so they’re encouraged to experiment and push the limits with their creations. While these decoration techniques were used for high fashion, they’re the very same tools that will allow promotional apparel to stand out from the crowd.

We’re already looking ahead to an even more far-out 2016 fashion shoot – and encourage you to aim for new heights as well.

Wearables Editor C.J. Mittica (pictured above), cmittica@asicentral.com

With Direct Link, the Future is Now

Filed under: News About ASI

In today’s business world, a positive customer review is as valuable as an ironclad sales contract. Whenever one hits my inbox, I’m tempted to post it on a billboard. The Internet – today’s version of an electronic billboard – will have to do.

Below is my latest favorite, sent to us by Magnet’s Chief Technology Officer Rene Whitcraft, testifying to the value of the direct connection that now exists between ASI’s ESP® and suppliers like The Magnet Group (asi/68507), Color FX Inc. (asi/55520) and Power Sales & Advertising (asi/79083):

“ASI’s new API allows us to bring new products to market and update pricing electronically and instantaneously – as compared to weeks of manual entry and review,” Rene told us. “In addition, the API is comprehensive and robust, which will allow us to take the next integration step – electronically receiving and processing orders received through ESP. By improving the accuracy of the product data found on ESP and shortening the order-to-delivery time through automated order processing, ASI’s API will make buying from The Magnet Group a painless and satisfying experience for our customers.”

In short, APIs (or application programming interfaces) means large suppliers can now be directly linked to ASI’s ESP – the industry’s No. 1 product sourcing tool – allowing suppliers to update time-sensitive product information like SKU level pricing and inventory in a blink.

With direct connect, updates that once took up to 24 hours now occur in under five minutes. And, suppliers with databases directly linked to ESP Updates no longer have to log in to ASI – as soon product updates are made in their system, they are automatically updated in ESP.

This is nothing less than the single most dramatic advancement the promotional products industry has seen in decades. I’m proud to say that our product data platform is moving this industry forward and transforming the way distributors search, find and quote products to their customers.

In today’s get-it-now marketplace, speed and efficiency are as critical as positive reviews.

For distributors, direct connect means more product, shipping and pricing information, when and how they want it, with faster, easier order management, making businesses more efficient and orders placed with more confidence and fewer questions.

For suppliers, it means a seamless, time-saving system that allows for updating the latest product info and pricing in minutes, and in bulk. Just by choosing the type of product they’re entering, ESP automatically defaults to values for easy inputting. Plus, suppliers can work from templates instead of manually entering every detail themselves.

So far, ASI has successfully migrated 3,200 suppliers’ data into ESP Updates, which hosts over 950,000 products and feeds directly into ESP, meaning distributors enjoy direct access to one terabyte of continuously updated product data with over 12 million price points, 2.5 million product images, 450,000 virtual sample-ready images and 29 million product attributes.

If that isn’t billboard-worthy, I don’t know what is.

With You Every Step of the Way

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Imagine inviting a crew of co-workers into your home for two days from dawn to dusk to shoot a commercial for your company. It happened at my house and, as you can imagine, it was an insanely busy scene, with lights, cameras and action everywhere, from the kitchen and living room all the way to the bathroom and bedroom. It was also insanely fun. The end result is a new ASI video, “Every Step of the Way.” Click here to take a look.

The meaning behind the video is simple: Our tools, resources and information are designed for you, the members of the promotional products industry, but our support is really what makes the difference.

Behind world-class products and services, we have more than 400 dedicated people who want to help you reach your potential and exceed your goals. (No, all 400 of them did not come to my house to make the video, but there were times during the shoot when it felt like they did.)

As talented experts in their fields, each and every one of ASI’s employees is here to support you and your business, through ups, downs and really anything that comes your way. We are focused on making you successful.

Your business journey is unique to you. We can’t walk in your shoes, but we can walk with you and help you when you need it. Like the new video says, we’re here, every step of the way.

I hope you like the video. Either way, I’d welcome your feedback, at rwatson@asicentral.com. Who knows – maybe for our next commercial we’ll come to your house.

P.S. You may spot a few familiar faces in our video, including ASI’s Chairman of the Board, Norman Cohn (reading the bedtime story), President and CEO Tim Andrews (offering wine) and our products expert, Joe Haley (providing morning-drive commentary). The “star” – who is meant to represent each of you – is Rick Angeloni, ASI’s design principal in our marketing department.

– Rob Watson, ASI’s senior vice president of marketing and user experience



Update from ASI’s CTO

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

There are few things more productive than getting together with your peers to brainstorm pressing issues everyone can relate to and learn from, especially when the topics concern new and emerging technology.

That’s why I was so happy to host a CTO Summit in conjunction with ASI’s Chicago show in mid-July. All told, 14 distributors, partners and suppliers – including SanMar, Brighter Promotions, ASB, Facilis, HALO and Safeguard – spent the day discussing technology, operations and customer service. I was very impressed with the high-level professionals who took the time to attend (our group is pictured below).

Just about everyone at the summit shares a keen interest in moving this industry forward, especially when it comes to automating and connecting suppliers and distributors for order processing. At ASI, we know how important it is to everyone in our industry to have the latest, greatest real-time product information available at their fingertips.

For the past two years, we’ve devoted countless hours working directly with the industry’s top suppliers to link their databases directly to ESP. By making quick, vital data sharing and communication available across the entire industry, the end-to-end workflow – from product inputting to price quoting to order processing – will be as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.

The summit’s agenda (outlined below) covered a wide range of topics. Hopefully we provided something for everyone. If you need more info on anything, don’t hesitate to email me at arafat@asicentral.com:

  • ASI’s State of the Industry
  • ASI Case Study: Benefits and Challenges of the Modern Platform Architecture
  • Right Brain/Left Brain: Keeping Creativity Alive Within User Experience
  • Technology Challenges from the Perspective of the Distributor
  • Big Data: How to Tame It and Harness Its Power for Profit
  • The Perilous and the Profitable: What You Should Know About Outsourcing

A personal highlight for me was hearing from ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, one of the chief architects responsible for introducing more advanced technology to our industry, starting with the remarkable ESP database – now over 950,000 products strong, and counting. It’s always fascinating to recall just how fast and far we’ve come since the days of CDs, microfiche and rolodexes – and to imagine the possibilities ahead.

This was our third CTO Summit and I’m sure it’ll continue as an annual event, so if you missed it this year, stay tuned for info on 2016. The goal is to establish a solid list of technologists we can rely on for input and feedback regarding the myriad of opportunities and challenges facing our ever-changing industry.

To that end, I’d like to especially thank the experts from Macrosoft for sharing their expertise with the group.

If you have any questions regarding any topic we covered – or suggestions for future topics or speakers –please let me know. I’m grateful to everyone who attended and hope to see all of you next year as well.

ASI CTO Armughan Rafat

Triumphs, Tears and Tips in Chicago

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

ASI ended its last major show of the 2015 season with fireworks and fanfare in Chicago, with attendance up nearly 3% over 2014, tons of fun at our new networking clubs and a fast-paced keynote by Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning.

We accomplished so much in Chicago it’s hard to re-cap. In the middle of it all, we celebrated winners like The Magnet Group CEO Bill Korowitz (at right) as Person of the Year and Senator’s Michael Nick as International Person of the Year during the glittering black-tie 2015 Counselor Awards, which featured spectacular fireworks.

Click here for video interviews with the winners, here for videos shown during the event and here for an album of gorgeous photos (right-click to save any pic you wish).

Although I loved all the speeches (hands down, Bill’s was the funniest and, as he warned us, also the longest), I was really touched by Fran Ford, president of Castelli North America, who presented one of the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Awards to ASI’s own Ron Ball (below).

“For the past 30+ years, this man has been there for so many of us, helping us grow our businesses, but somehow the light never shined his way,” Fran said. “We grew and somewhere behind it all, he stood, never wanting to shine his star! I am so honored to introduce my dear friend… one who has always been there for me and so many others.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Ron went on to thank Fran, the Norman Cohn family and even me. “Thank you for all the support and confidence in me throughout my years of service to ASI and this industry,” Ron said. “This is a great way to end the wonderful career I’ve had at ASI for over 40 years.”

Thank you, Ron.

For more on the awards and for our editorial coverage, visit www.asicentral.com. And, click here to read a positive story on the show in the Chicago Tribune (circulation 455,000), featuring ASI’s Joe Haley and a number of industry products.

A few more words about Manning: He flew to our show, incredibly, just hours after being honored in Los Angeles with another ESPY Award for Best Record-breaking Performance of the past year.

It was a real thrill to meet him, and not just because I’m a Hoosier who remembers when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 after 31 seasons in Maryland (the secret, 600-mile dead-of-night trek is among the most famous sporting moves ever). After struggling for years, the Colts enjoyed their greatest success to date under Manning, the team’s starting quarterback from 1998 to 2011.

So, yes, as an Indiana native, I’m a fan.

Luckily, Manning was a nice guy to boot – unpretentious and way funnier (and taller!) than I expected, going so far as to crack a joke in his best New Orleans drawl about buying a bunch of Papa John franchises just before his home state legalized marijuana: “As a guy who sells pizza in Colorado, I can tell you the business is really good there right now.”

Anyone who might have wondered what a football player could tell a business audience didn’t have to wonder for long. The tips and insight Manning shared during his 30-minute presentation and follow-up Q&A with me (below) were relevant to anyone, whether you own a promo products business or earn millions tossing footballs:

  • “Your personal, professional journey rarely follows a straight line.”
  • “Don’t be stymied by change, be stimulated by it.”
  • “Be a master observer and look for things that aren’t evident to your competitors.”
  • “Invest in a coach that can help you continue to grow…When you stop wanting to be mentored, I think you’re in big trouble.”
  • “The truth is, many NFL football players retire not because of injuries, but because of monotony.”

Traditionally, Chicago is the biggest ad specialty show of the summer – and ASI’s very last big show of the season – neither of which will change. ASI remains committed to putting on a great big show in the city of big shoulders in 2016.

We are, however, introducing major improvements for California and New York with our new Engage hybrid format. Engage combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. We’re very excited about its debut.

Don’t forget: Registration for ASI’s 2016 ASI shows (Orlando, January 4-6; Dallas, February 9-11; and Chicago, July 12-14) and all our high-profile keynote presentations will be available in early August at www.asishow.com.


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